Approximately ten years ago my pastor preached through the book of Colossians and I’ve never gotten over it. I’ve come back to the glorious truths about Jesus over and over in the last ten years, and the prayers that Paul prays have stuck with me. Today, I have the privilege of unpacking one of them with you.
Paul writes this letter to the church at Colossae out of concern that they are being swept away by false teaching contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ – likely a mix of Jewish tradition and Hellenistic philosophies. So, out of love and concern, Paul pens this letter from a Roman prison.
With that context in mind, notice how this book begins: with thanksgiving (v. 3-8) and prayer. And what a prayer it is!
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:9-14
In true Pauline fashion, there are a lot of words here, and most of them smushed into one long run-on sentence. So, what exactly is he is asking for on their behalf?
“That you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” This phrase is the main thrust of Paul’s prayer. Everything else in these verses is either an outflow of “being filled with the knowledge of his will” or a statement reminding the people who they are in Christ. As my pastor described it, “. . . there is only one prayer request, but it is so sweeping, vast, and powerful that everything else flows from it.”
The word Paul uses for knowledge means “precise and correct knowledge”. Precise and correct knowledge of what, though? God’s will: “inclination, desire, pleasure, commands, precepts.” Paul’s not praying for a general sense of who God is and what He wants. He’s praying that they accurately know God and what He desires for them. There’s a big difference between a general knowledge of God and truly knowing and understanding Him. General knowledge allows a lot of room for doubt and lies, but precise and correct knowledge gives us confidence and the ability to see doubt and lies for what they are!
If Paul is only really praying one thing for these believers, what’s the rest of the passage? It’s the outflow.
“so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” Paul encourages believers with this same phrase in at least two other places: Ephesians 4:1 and 1 Thessalonians 2:12. Each time the idea is that believers should occupy themselves with making progress toward being “suitable” or “appropriate” in a godly way. Being worthy of the One they follow, which is only possible through the blood of Christ’s sacrifice.
“fully pleasing to him” As in, pleasing God in all respects. With nothing left untouched by the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. When we know Him and we know what He desires and we walk in a way that matches up with that knowledge, God is pleased. Fully pleased. It’s incredible that this is possible!
“bearing fruit in every good work” Paul sets it up so clearly for us: bearing fruit is the natural outflow of being filled with the knowledge of God’s will. When we know His desires and we occupy ourselves with walking in a way that matches His desires, fruit follows. I don’t know about you, but so often I want the fruit without the knowledge. I want to be more patient because it will make a relationship easier, but I don’t want to seek God and understand His heart for that person. I want more joy, but am I willing to fill up with the knowledge of God? Or do I just want the “benefit” of doing so?
“increasing in the knowledge of God” Knowing and understanding God isn’t a one time deal. We never “arrive” in our knowledge of God. He is infinite, and that means we will never run out of things to know about Him (try wrapping your brain around that!). And if we truly know and understand His will, it will feed a hunger to keep knowing and understanding.
“being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” What a glorious promise this is! God will strengthen us according to His power, not our own limited human capacity, for all endurance and patience. And it doesn’t stop there – it’s those things given with joy! What a gift it is to know God, to understand His will with all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
“giving thanks to the Father” After rehearsing the glorious results of knowing God, how can we do anything but give thanks to the Father?!
And, lest the Colossians (or we) forget, Paul ends his prayer with a reminder of what it means to be a child of God: sharing in the saints inheritance in the light, rescued from the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of His beloved Son, redeemed, and forgiven. This is what’s true of the Colossians church and it’s what’s true of us who have put our faith in the death and resurrections of Christ as a means to pay for our sin and reconcile us to God.
So, with this prayer, Paul begins his exhortation to the Colossian church. He begins with thanksgiving for the church and their growth thus far (1:3-8), and then he tells them how he’s been praying for them (1:9-14). Before he directly addresses the false teaching they have been believing, he’ll remind them of who Christ is in all His glory (1:15-20), who they were and who they have become (1:21-23) and explain his own ministry in relationship to them (1:24-2:3)
He doesn’t accuse. He doesn’t demand. He doesn’t shame. He loves them. He prays for them. And then he addresses the problems head-on (chapter 3 and 4). Praise God for this gentle, bold letter from Paul to the Colossians! May we follow his lead in the way we interact with others, but more than that, may we realize His prayer and be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.